At the beginning of the 20th century, when 12-string guitars first appeared in the United States, the instruments were considered novelty items, curiosities, freaks of guitar making that were beneath the dignity of serious companies like Martin and Gibson. But when Blind Willie McTell picked up a Stella 12-string in 1927, and then basically never put it down, the instrument was suddenly legitimized.

A folk singer named Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly, had actually made the Stella 12-string his own earlier, in 1912, but Lead Belly had so many scrapes with the law and spent so much time in prison that he wouldn’t get a chance to popularize the ringing tones of the 12-string until the 1930s and ’40s. Even then, his biggest hit, “Good Night Irene,” came after his death in 1949.

Pete Seeger and the Weavers kept the 12-string sound alive until the 1960s, when groups like the Rooftop Singers (“Walk Right In”) made it the go-to instrument on the commercial folk scene. Gibson was ready with its B-45 in 1961 and its B-25 in 1962, while Martin got on board a bit later with its D12-20 in 1964 and D12-35 in 1965.

The loudest noise in 12-strings, though, was made by Rickenbacker, thanks to a custom, one-of-a-kind 12-string version of its 325 hollowbody electric guitar made in 1964 for John Lennon of the Beatles. George Harrison also became a Rickenbacker acolyte, playing his Rickenbacker 360 12-string on songs like "A Hard Day’s Night."

One musician who liked that sound a lot was Roger McGuinn of the Byrds. Reportedly, he bought a 360-12 after seeing the movie named after of the famous Beatles song. He went on to play a 12-string on one of the Byrds’ biggest hits, “Turn Turn Turn.”

By the late 1970s, newer companies like Taylor made acoustic 12-strings part of their lines. Once again, a key musician would cement the instrument's sound in our collective soundtrack. In this case it was Neil Young who, while vacationing in Florida, purchased a Taylor 12-string, an 855, at a local music shop. Young liked his 855 so much he ordered a second, and Taylor subsequently gained widespread recognition when Young’s 855 figured prominently in his concert film, "Rust Never Sleeps."


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Today in Music History - March 31
mysask.com, March 30th

Tejano, sung in both Spanish and English, mixes the sound of the accordion and 12-string guitar and was developed in southern Texas in the early 1900s. Almost four months after Selena's death, her album "Dreaming of You" debuted at No. 1 on the ...Read more

Former Night Ranger Guitarist Jeff Watson Talks New Music + Upcoming 'Randy ...
Ultimate Classic Rock, March 28th

Late in my teens was when I first started playing electric guitar — I started on 12-string guitar and flatpicking was everything when I was a little kid. Then I saw a guy playing electric guitar in a band that came to my high school for an assembly...Read more

Spell Breakers in Rosendale
Almanac Weekly, March 28th

and Lorah Yaccarino, playing 12-string guitar. Andrea Israel, an Emmy-winning television writer, will read her piece Circles in the Sand, and Sadee Brathwaite, an artist, curator and arts facilitator who is one of the Ministry's 36 priestesses...Read more

Lead Belly in bronze, looking to play
Shreveport Times, March 26th

Lomax took Huddie to New York City and fame. He soon was making records and became known as "the king of the 12-string guitar." Though he became a true celebrity, Huddie never found the wealth he may have had coming his way, nor the height of fame ...Read more

Maimann: Diamond Mind rocks new release
Edmonton Sun, March 26th

They do, however, add some 12-string guitar to the mix on the new album. Trimble is worried some people won't respond well to the change, after the Fake Tape E.P. scored unexpected and overwhelmingly positive reviews online. “I'm kind of nervous about ...Read more

Have you seen this distinctive guitar stolen in South Devon?
Torquay Herald Express, March 26th

POLICE are appealing for information after a distinctive electric guitar was stolen from a van in South Devon. The black and white Danelectro 12-string guitar was stolen from a white Vauxhall van parked in Seaton Avenue, in Plymouth, between 5.30am and ...Read more

The Smiths' guitar legend Johnny Marr to publish his memoirs, just like former ...
Gloucestershire Echo, March 23rd

But one of rock's fiercest rivalries is moving to the bookshelves after it was announced The Smiths' guitarist Johnny Marr is following his former songwriting partner, Morrissey, and publishing his memoirs. Marr, whose trademark 12-string guitar sound...Read more

12-String Setup Secrets
Premier Guitar, February 9th

A handful of musicians have built their careers around the 12-string guitar—Lead Belly, Leo Kottke, and Roger McGuinn come to mind—but for most guitarists, an electric or acoustic 12-string is a specialty instrument to be hauled out when a song needs...Read more